DRIGGS — Members of the Native American Guardians Association spoke Wednesday evening at a community gathering of more than 100 people who came to hear the Washington, D.C.-based organization’s message that the word “redskin” isn’t offensive.
“One thing I have always learned in any debate, you listen then be heard,” said Mark One Wolf, a panel guest from NAGA at the start of the evening. “Who in the world could be offended by redskins? We can universally agree that context and intent is important. I take pride in that word.”
Members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes sat through the five NAGA panelists before standing and saying that they disagreed with the event’s message.
“I am a Teton, and I go back seven, 10, 20 generations of this whole land right here,” said Randy’L Teton of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes to the community members gathered Wednesday evening. “I’m offended you came here, not asking us how we feel. We’re all from this land. We’re the original Teton family, and you did not ask us how we feel. Hear us out, we come to this area all of the time. I don’t have anything against you people. I’m a Teton, and the redskin name bothers me.”
Teton was one of nine members from the tribe who attended the Wednesday meeting.
NAGA’s message is to “educate, not eradicate” Native American imagery and symbols in schools and sports teams. The nonprofit’s mailing address, according to the IRS, is in Virginia.
Throughout much of the two hours, the NAGA panel’s presentation was met with standing ovations after each speaker completed their presentation.
Eunice Davison, a Dakota Sioux and enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Tribe from North Dakota, said that the high school mascot was not a mascot, but symbol and an image. She encouraged the group in attendance to not believe the “changers,” referring to people who want the mascot changed. She said that newcomers to the community come in and forced themselves down the throats of locals. She criticized the local newspaper, a local school board member’s editorial that ran in the newspaper and warned that people who want to change the mascot are no different than what the Nazis did in Germany.
”We can’t possibly know and understand what people are going to be offended by,” added One Wolf. “It’s unfair to call you racists. I see a heavy and deep connection to heritage in this town. Thank you all for standing up and educating yourself to understand both sides of the argument.”
After NAGA’s presentation, the panel opened discussion from the audience. Ladd Edmo, Vice Chairman of Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, took the stage and talked about the need for education about Native American issues in schools and presented his perspective to the group. He read from a prepared statement that he is planning on submitting to the Teton School Board prior to the July 8 meeting, when the mascot will be discussed. In the letter, he referenced old newspaper articles that advertised rewards for the scalps of Native Americans, paying $50 for the “redskins” of men and $25 for those of women and children.
“This is the Idaho and tribal history that is missing from public school districts,” said Edmo. He then offered up the tribe’s diversity training and Native America curriculum that is available to school teachers and school districts in Idaho.
Valley resident Tracey Tonks with the online Facebook page “Save the Redskins” stood and told Edmo that she and others wanted to “fight with you.” Edmo suggested the best way to do so would be to visit the tribe to listen and learn.
Chad Christensen, Teton County’s state representative, attended Wednesday’s event wearing a “Save the Redskins” T-shirt. He posted on his Facebook page Wednesday evening that he attended the event and “some showed up in opposition.” But he did not mention that those who spoke against the mascot were from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe. He posted a picture of Teton Valley resident Clint Calderwood helping an elderly member of the tribe out of the auditorium at the end of the night and wrote, “He put his feelings aside and showed love and compassion.”
Yvette Tuell of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe also stood and spoke, saying that this was “your community” but she wanted the community to know that “redskin” was not a positive word. A community member in attendance asked if racism would go away if the Teton High School mascot was changed. Tuell said it would not, but added that it would be a place to start.
Teton Valley resident Sierra Furniss stood and asked what could the mascot be changed to that wouldn’t be offensive. Tuell’s daughter, Derena, said that the buffalo in the center of Driggs was a Native American image and suggested the animal as a new mascot, thus maintaining Native imagery and heritage in Teton Valley.
After the event, local resident and member of the Save the Redskins, Doug Wilson said, “Last night was a step in the right direction. That conversation at the end was way unorganized, but the take away was very positive. There is work going on behind the scene to help clear (this issue) up.”
In March, a member of the community addressed the school board at the end of a board meeting asking that the elected leaders consider taking up the issue of changing the Redskin mascot. Since then, the school board decided to take up a public discussion about the mascot while social media conversations have followed a similar vein of passionate opinions around keeping or changing the mascot at the high school.
In 2013, Teton School District Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme told the school board that he was making the decision to remove the mascot from Teton High School despite generations of his own family who had graduated from Teton High School as Redskins, himself included. The school board at the time, moved by public pressure, open the conversation up to the greater community. In a historic meeting which filled the Teton High School auditorium, the public showed up and loudly protested the decision. Woolstenhulme conceded at the end of the meeting, which left some school board members in tears because of the intensity of the evening.